Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Literary critics continue to insist that this sentiment was Leo Tolstoy's nod to the anguish of Anna Karenina. Others mutter darkly that the author was merely presaging the almost daily turmoil that envelops Russian football, most particularly Spartak Moscow.

In truth, the cause of the Spartak woe is routine. It is a big club that does not win titles, at least not since 2001. This paucity of return is a cause of unhappiness for owner, fans, players and coaches. It is the last who pays the price. The dismissal of Unai Emery was inevitable after the 5-1 thrashing by Dinamo Moscow and a series of rows with leading players. The former Valencia coach thus shares the fate of Michael Laudrup, who was fired in April 2009.

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The one constant in the backroom staff since 2008 has been Valery Karpin, the 43-year-old general director who has taken over as coach until at least January. His hopes of an immediate revitalisation of the team were thwarted by a defeat by Zenit St Petersburg on Friday.

This match, though, gave both glimpses about what is wrong at Spartak and how Karpin may go about changing the make-up and mentality of an under-performing side.

Karpin is an extraordinary character whose personality is not ideally suited to mending fences. He is outspoken, sure of his opinions and invites confrontation. Emery admitted on his departure that he had "failed to communicate" with the team during his five months in charge. "A good connection is very important for the transfer of ideas, to map out how to work and how to play, feelings and emotions," he said.

This is, of course, a euphemism for falling out with players. Karpin admitted as much when he told Sovetsky Sport: "I talked about this with Unai and we noted that there are players with whom contact wasn't established. Unai answered that everything was fine, that he'd had situations like that before and that everything was under his control."

It wasn't, of course. Forward Artem Dzyuba subsequently labelled Emery a "petty coach" and there were reports of widespread indiscipline. All this is now Karpin's concern.

In the summer, Spartak were lauding the recruitment of Brazilian midfielder Romulo, Sweden midfielder Kim Kallstrom and former Argentina defender Juan Manuel Insaurralde. "For the first time in four years, they're calling Spartak a contender for the title," Karpin said then after relinquishing the coach's post to allow Emery to take control.

Now Karpin has to steady a ship that is in the midst of a football storm. He has the background, the talent and the drive to turn Spartak around but he also has a personality that can grate on others.

Karpin, who started his professional career as a right-sided midfielder at Spartak before spending 11 years in Spain with Real Sociedad, Valencia and Celta Vigo, was known as one of La Liga's best chulos, or wind-up merchants. He had the facility to irritate opponents with a well-chosen word or comment. This has not deserted him. Ahead of his return to the dugout on Friday, he accused Zenit of over-spending and was promptly told to shut up by Luciano Spalletti, his rival coach.

This propensity to talk outrageously does not mean Karpin is a buffoon. He was a clever footballer and is an astute businessman and thoughtful coach. When he stopped playing at the age of 36 in the summer of 2005, he remained in Spain, looking after a property company and buying cycling and volleyball teams. He also had a chat show on Spanish television but agreed to move back to Spartak in August 2008. He led the team to the second Champions League spot last season and now has to find some sort of redemption against Celtic tomorrow night as Spartak are condemned to a bottom-place finish in the group.

He admitted at the weekend that his first priority is to improve the team defensively where Insaurralde, in particular, has been strongly criticised. "What to do with my central defenders? The problem is not only there but also in support," said Karpin. "I will not solely blame the central defenders for the team's failure in recent matches. I can tell you from my own experience that Real Sociedad were struggling defensively during 2001/02 season. But a year later they were arguably the best in the campaign defensively. So, you never know when things change."

However, Karpin will almost certainly revert to using two holding midfield players in Glasgow in an attempt to protect a shaky back four. He is, though, a proponent of enterprising play, emphasising quick passing and using width.

He was central to the £10m signing of Aiden McGeady from Celtic. "Karpin tells me what he thinks. He is an approachable guy and there are a lot of meetings and dialogue with the staff. He will tell you when he is happy with you, tell you when he is not," the Irish internationalist told Herald Sport after he signed for Spartak in 2010.

Spartak have a lot to be unhappy about at the moment. However, the ability of the players is considerable and the strength of the coach cannot be doubted. There may be smiles among the Celtic support at the end of this Champions League tie but they will only come after a night of toil and trial.